Q&A with Chris Hartley, author of Stoneman’s Raid, 1865

We’ve got so much going on this week, I’m not sure where to start! For our local readers, please be sure to check out Rick Rothacker’s signing of Banktown at Friendly Center’s Barnes & Noble in Greensboro tonight at 7 p.m. You can also catch him at the Barnes & Noble in Winston-Salem tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Find more details on his signings here.

But if you’re interested in something a little more historical, join us tomorrow night to celebrate the launch of Stoneman’s Raid, 1865, by Chris Hartley, a local Winston-Salem author.

Old Salem
Lecture from 5:15 to 5:45 p.m. in the Single Brothers Workshop
10 Academy Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101

Reception following at T. Bagge Shop’s Garden Courtyard
626 South Main Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101

Stoneman’s Raid, 1865, covers the story of Federal major general George Stoneman, who launched a cavalry raid deep into the heart of the Confederacy in the spring of 1865. Over the next two months, Stoneman’s cavalry rode across six Southern states, fighting fierce skirmishes and destroying supplies and facilities. When the raid finally ended, Stoneman’s troopers had brought the Civil War home to dozens of communities that hadn’t seen it up close before. In the process, the cavalrymen pulled off one of the longest cavalry raids in U.S. military history.

Based on exhaustive research in 34 repositories in 12 states and from more than 200 books and newspapers, Hartley’s book tells the complete story of Stoneman’s 1865 raid for the first time. To get things started before the big event tonight, we chatted with Chris to learn a little more about the man behind the book.

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1. You’ve said that many Civil War books “explain how battles affected the war. Very, very few of those books explain how the events they describe affected the peace.” How does Stoneman’s Raid, 1865, do that?

Most Civil War studies talk about how the events they describe affected the course of the war. That is unquestionably important to answer, but the effects of many battles often linger after the shooting has stopped. That is especially true of Stoneman’s 1865 Raid. Although it was designed to help end the Civil War, in the end the raid did not do that. Instead, the raid’s destruction made it much harder for many Southern citizens to recover from the war and start over.

2. What is one of your favorite/most interesting tidbits from the book?

Many of my favorite raid stories come from the files of the Southern Claims Commission. After the war, anyone who suffered private property loss at the hands of the Union army was eligible for compensation, but only if they could prove their loyalty to the Union. To get compensated, each individual had to file a claim, complete with multiple eyewitness affidavits. Those files still exist today in the National Archives, and they are a treasure trove. One story from those files is about Yadkin County widow Sarah Dalton. At about 7 a.m. one April morning, she heard a knock on her door. A Federal officer stood on her doorstep. Mrs. Dalton later stated that he “asked in a very respectful manner for breakfast for fifteen (15) officers.” She agreed and went to work, but to her chagrin, hungry guests continued to arrive. Federal soldiers also used her corn crib. By 4:00 that afternoon, Mrs. Dalton had fed about one hundred Yankees and her corn crib had supplied three or four thousand horses. It is but one telling example of the cost the raid exacted from local citizens.

3. When did you first learn of or become interested in Stoneman and his raid?

I grew up in the area that Stoneman’s cavalry raided in 1865, and today I still live there, so I could not help but be drawn to this event. It is hard to miss the historical markers commemorating the raid – they seem to be everywhere. As an undergraduate student at UNC, I decided to write a paper about the raid for a history class. That only sparked my interest even more. After graduation, I began researching and writing about Civil War events. Eventually I decided to revisit the raid in earnest. It’s been over twenty years since I first wrote that paper, but Stoneman’s Raid, 1865 is the result.

4. What was your favorite part of researching/writing the book?

Without a doubt, it was the thrill of discovery. Researching any event, especially one that is little known and not well documented, is hard work. You have to look under a lot of rocks, so to speak, to find pertinent info. While researching the raid, more often than not I spent hours sifting through books and documents only to turn up nothing. But the moment I found anything important, it was exciting. Sometimes it was hard to contain my excitement in the confines of a quiet library!

5. You give many talks and lectures to various groups around the area. What are some of the best questions you’ve gotten about your work?

I’ve had the privilege of speaking to many types of groups, most of whom have a deep interest in the Civil War, so I’m always struck by the wide variety of questions. Questions about uniforms, weapons, money, stamps, and all sorts of things reflect how wide and varied the interests related to this important conflict are. My favorite questions, though, are the ones that kids have asked me when I’ve spoken to younger audiences–such as, “Would the Confederates have won if they had laser guns?” Or “Wouldn’t the war have been much simpler if they had just tried playing rock, paper, scissors instead?”

6. What are your top must-read books?

Given the vast amount of literature about the Civil War, that’s a tough one to answer. There are so many great books to choose from. I cut my teeth reading about the Army of Northern Virginia, so my personal list includes Edward Porter Alexander’s Fighting for the Confederacy; Douglas S. Freeman’s multi-volume series Lee’s Lieutenants and R.E. Lee; and Heros von Borcke’s Memoirs of the Confederate War of Independence.

7. Now that Stoneman’s Raid, 1865 is published, what’s next for you?

I’m working on a new expanded edition of my first book, Stuart’s Tarheels: James B. Gordon and his North Carolina Cavalry, which has been out of print for over a decade. I’ve also started researching a book about my wife’s grandfather, who was killed in World War II. Further out, I am in the very early stages of a new biography of Confederate Gen. D.H. Hill. Hill was a prolific writer, so that one is going to take a while.

8. What does Stoneman’s Raid and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” have in common?

The obscure 1865 cavalry raid of Maj. Gen. George Stoneman serves as the unlikely backdrop for that hit song of the 1960’s. It is surprising that The Band did not choose a more famous Civil War battle such as Gettysburg, but it is also fitting because Stoneman’s raid did, in some ways, “Drive Dixie Down,” as I explain in my book. The song went on to great popularity, and was later covered by many other artists, including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Bruce Hornsby, and the Black Crowes. Later versions of the song often omit the Stoneman reference, possibly because the phrase “Stoneman’s cavalry” sounds like “so much cavalry.”

It is also surprising that Stoneman’s Raid showed up in a 1970 made-for-TV movie titled “Menace on the Mountain.” Starring Mitch Vogel and Jodie Foster, the Walt Disney film tells the story of a teenage boy who struggles to protect his family from Yankee deserters who have seized the family’s home while their father is off at war. The movie was based on the true story of an outlaw gang who ravaged western North Carolina in the spring of 1865 from a stronghold called Fort Hamby. The real outlaws were led by a deserter from Stoneman’s cavalry, as I related in my book.

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Learn more about Chris Hartley on his Web site.

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One thought on “Q&A with Chris Hartley, author of Stoneman’s Raid, 1865

  1. Pingback: Yadkin County Auditor Property Search | North Carolina | County Auditors

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